Wizarding Weekend: Halloween in Upstate New York
What happens when Harry Potter fans get wind of a few local businesses taking on a Harry Potter theme in a small town in upstate New York? They do exactly what they have become known for: Turn out in staggering numbers. Ithaca, New York, played host to a Wizarding Weekend in Press Bay Alley, just off the Commons, which is a downtown area of unique shops and restaurants. The Wizarding Weekend began as a few business owners planning on handing out Harry Potter-themed samples on Halloween, but shortly after posts about the event went up on Facebook, the response reached viral proportions, with over 2,000 people RSVPing to the event page. It was at this point that the city council realized Ithaca had hit on something special, and these business owners would need help in order to accommodate this many people converging on the streets of this small college town.
“Once we saw it was more than handing out Butterbeer samples in a shop, we said, ‘[A]l[l ]right, we really need to help them,” said Deborah Mohlenhoff, the city’s Deputy Mayor. “Plus, we had to get them through the city process of closing streets and permitting everything that we needed.”
With several side streets closed to traffic, Harry Potter fans ran downtown for a few magical hours on Halloween afternoon. The State Theater offered showings of Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban while there were food trucks serving up wizarding treats. Festival goers were able to step into a ring to duel it out with an opponent, and there was a live game of wizard’s chess in the open space of one of the closed-off streets. All this was pulled off in a mere six days. The volunteer effort was impressive, and they managed to keep what could have been a crowd of chaos under control and ensure that everyone enjoyed themselves at this free and family-friendly event.
With all the activities, a Horcrux scavenger hunt, and a House points competition, this event would be absolutely perfect to bring children to. There were so many kids running around in cloaks and glasses, just revelling in the magic that took the town into the wizarding universe for the day. The event was definitely well done, especially for something that was not meant to reach this proportion. The volunteers did a great job pulling everything together under such short notice, but as with any first-time event, there is room for improvement. Perhaps having two lines for butterbeer and other stations would be a good idea for the future since the lines did discourage me from participating in some of the activities and other things the festival had to offer. All in all, it was a successful event on a beautiful fall day, and I commend the people of Ithaca for all the hard work they put in to bring this day to fans of the Harry Potter series.